Is estrangement a form of abuse? It depends, experts say.

The American Psychological Association defines estrangement as “A notable reduction or cessation of communication,” which occurs when individuals experience a loss of connection with people they once had intimate relationships with, such as a spouse or family member, often due to indifference or hostility. Some individuals who engage in abusive behavior may use estrangement as a means to assert control over their partner.

In simpler terms, it’s “ghosting.”.

Stockard clarifies that if estrangement is used as a means of emotional or mental manipulation and control, rather than for self-care purposes, it can indeed be considered a form of abuse. On the other hand, if the intention behind the estrangement is to prioritize one’s own mental well-being, it may not necessarily be abusive. According to Stockard, instances of individuals becoming estranged from others or their families for self-care reasons and the need to safeguard their mental health do occur. Ultimately, whether or not an estrangement should be regarded as abusive relies on the specific circumstances and motivations involved.

What to know about abusive relationships

Stockard offers various recommendations for individuals who might be in need of assistance in dealing with an oppressive partnership.

  • Stockard suggests, “These individuals in your life can also assist by offering an external viewpoint, either through perceiving your relationship from a fresh perspective or by sharing relevant insights based on their own life experiences.” Make an effort to communicate with your support networks.
  • Safely end your current relationship to devise a safety strategy that can assist you in reaching out to numerous local organizations dedicated to combating domestic violence, or alternatively, seek refuge in these organizations if you are experiencing feelings of insecurity within your own home. If you find it difficult to reach out to reliable family and friends, you may also consider reaching out to multiple anonymous helplines, such as the National Domestic Abuse Hotline and the National Sexual Assault Hotline, to access valuable resources and support.
  • They can assist you in ending the relationship and provide guidance in creating a safety strategy. Due to the harmful nature of the relationship, it is possible that you have experienced a decline in confidence and self-worth, which they can support you in rebuilding. You may be grappling with various emotions that you can address with the help of a therapist recommended by Stockard. If you are in an abusive relationship, it is advisable to seek advice from a counselor or therapist who specializes in relationships affected by abuse.
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    If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, you can reach out to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 800-799-7233 for a chat or call. For assistance with sexual assault, contact the National Network for Incest & Abuse Rape (RAINN) at 800-656-4673.

    What does estrangement look like?

    Had a unpleasant initial encounter and desire to “disappear”? That’s impolite, but distancing within a established connection is distinct.

    The victim in an abusive estrangement feels guilty and/or anxious for what has happened in the relationship and they are not to blame for it. The motivation behind this abusive estrangement is to make the victim feel responsible and to take away their emotional support as a form of punishment. This kind of abuse can be seen as a form of silent treatment, where the abuser completely pulls away from the victim for days or weeks without letting them know. Stockard outlines these motivations for this kind of abusive behavior, where it can be seen as a form of punishment.

    Read more about abuse, trauma and stress here

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